Part of the reason the minds behind the Colorado Daily ask me to yak about audio equipment here is because a cultural shift took place in the last 10 or 15 years, and more folks are appreciating better sound and music than ever.
iPhones now actively filter out environmental noise to focus conversations. Beats by Dre for years encircled celebrity necks with obtrusive but (ostensibly) good-sounding headphones, and the public followed suit. Vinyl as a resurrected music medium is still on the rise.
And now we’re in the age of the Bluetooth speaker. Already, scores of new companies and prototypes have popped up to serve the mainstream audience with good, portable sound.
Because of this, I think a dose of general audiophile information is useful to all and especially useful to those intrigued by this hobby enough to learn more.
Hi-fi audio is, after all, a heady hobby. Learning is much of the activity. A peek into the design of every element of the music chain shows a host of interactive relationships and obvious trade-offs galore. There is no free lunch in audio, as they say.
What does that mean? No free lunch means that the little Bluetooth speaker is not going to replay music as faithfully as even a car radio would. The trade-off for portability and 2-inch woofers is a lack of representation of scale and accurate bass and other things.
Many use the speaker for what it does best — squealing tunes from a spot in the sand at the beach or, in my case, blasting tracks to the bike polo court from the chain link fence into which it’s shoved.
But a high-quality, engulfing, inspiring music experience is really not hard to set up when one is armed with the right knowledge.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll discuss the basic requirements of a good music system and explain elements in the chain that matter the most. We’ll start at the beginning — the source — and go through it piece by piece until we get to the speakers themselves. Hopefully by the end of this, anyone who is interested in having a “concert” experience at home can start to make progress toward that goal.
The first topic is the music itself. Much of modern music is fairly compressed, meaning the quietest parts are not so quiet and the loudest parts aren’t so loud in comparison. This makes music listenable when played in the background. It doesn’t make for a great audiophile experience, because loud and soft — dynamics — are essential to music. If all we had were notes and no variation in loudness, music would be very boring.
Classical music can be an extreme case where the quietest parts are hardly audible and the loudest are too loud. But there is a lot of room between that extreme and the typical radio hit, which has considerably less difference between loud and soft.
A good example of an album that isn’t totally uncompressed but features impressive dynamic swings is “The Goat Rodeo Sessions.” Compare that against the latest Taylor Swift single and you’ll hear what I mean.